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headphones for home cinema use

Discussion in 'Headphones, Earphones & Portable Music' started by rockhopper, May 24, 2005.

  1. rockhopper

    rockhopper
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    hi, new to the forums so sorry if this has already been asked.

    I am just wondering whether I can get good quality sound (somewhere near as good as listening through normal quality speakers) from headphones.

    Are there any particular types/makes/models which you can recommend for around £50 mark. I dont mind spending a bit extra if its worth it.

    They are mainly for watching films, but will be used for music too. I think I remember seeing some with surround sound :confused: Is this gimmicky or does it work?

    Also, what are these headphone amps all about :confused: Do they help give a better dynamic range or something?

    Sorry for all the questions.

    Any recommendations please...
     
  2. rockhopper

    rockhopper
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    Just read a review on the Sennheiser HD555, and these seem to fit the bill nicely. Does anybody have these? Please let me know your opinions. Are they anywhere near as good as your full surround speaker setups?
     
  3. saucer

    saucer
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  4. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    That's an interesting question. And, as with most interesting questions, the answer is "yes and no". :devil:

    It depends what matters to you more. One thing you are basically never going to get with Headphones is the type of sound-staging that can be achieved with speakers. "Sound-staging" means the ability to reconstruct spacial information from the recording - so you don't just hear what the violins are playing, you can hear where the violins are relative to the trumpets - both in left/right terms, and in terms of how far awar from you they are.

    This is actually not (to a considerable degree) an inherent restriction of headphones, it's also to do with the way recordings are made: recordings are specifically designed to be listened to with speakers, and if you don't listen to them that way the sound-staging gets messed up.

    In fact (if I may digress for a moment) there are few recordings that are made binaurally, that's to say they're recorded by making a detailed life-size model of a human head and putting microphones in its ears. Playing back a binaural recording produces extremely effective sound-staging, and can even create effects that are impossible to achieve with speakers. In particular it's very hard to make speakers produce a sound that sounds like it's coming from a point closer to you than the speakers are. But headphones + binaural recording can precisely recreate the effect of someone whispering directly into your ear.

    There's a little binaural demonstration on the extras disc of Monsters, Inc. if I recall correctly....

    Anyway, as I was saying, speakers will always score over headphones in sound-staging terms (unless the recording is binaural, so that's 99.99% of the time). People who like to be able to feel subwoofers punching them in the gut also sometimes don't like 'phones. A good pair of 'phones will go at least as deep as any subwoofer can, and they can certainly produce enough deep bass to (literally!) make your teeth rattle, but they can't reach far enough down your body to affect your tummy. :)

    Where headphones do score over speakers, though, is in areas like accuracy, clarity, neutrality, transparency, and detail. Any audio system introduces distortion in the playback relative to the theoretical content of the recording. Better systems usually do a better job of making the sound in the listening room accurately match what's on the disc. In that way, headphones tend to do a much better job than speakers at the same price level.

    I remember once I did a demo of a Denon A1SR (which, at the time, was about the highest-quality home cinema device you could get that had the processor and the amplification in the same box - obviously separate processor and amp systems could cost ten times as much and sound significantly better). I was listening to it with B&W Nautilus 805 speakers at the front, with a Nautilus HTM2 centre, B&W CDM SNT surrounds, and a REL Q400E subwoofer. It sounded... okay, but dissappointing.

    Then I tried listening to it using my Sennheiser HD600 headphones. (The A1SR happily has a headphone jack and includes Dolby Headphone processing). To my ears, listening through headphones was much, much better than listening through speakers. Not a tiny difference - the headphones won hands down. Sure the soundstaging wasn't as good, but you could still tell quite easily whether a sound was in front of you or behind you, and the purity of the sound, the lack of distortion, was just amazing.

    So, on that occasion, I had £200 worth of headphones outperforming three or four thousand pounds worth of speakers. (And, if you were only listening through headphones, you wouldn't need a device like the A1SR that had 7 channels of speaker amplification built in). But of course, not everyone would agree with me - to many people, the soundstaging is more important than a lack of distortion. And it's certainly the case that, for surround sound to work, you need to have a system like Dolby Headphone (or a binaural recording!). A simple stereo downmix doesn't give you anything like the same effect.
     
  5. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    To get an answer to that question I suggest you search this forum for posts containing the word "dolby" or "surround" or "5.1" (not sure if that last one is an allowable search term).

    Again, I suggest you do a search for "amp" or "amplifier" on this forum. There have been many threads discussing headphone amps before.
     
  6. rockhopper

    rockhopper
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    Nicolas B,

    thanks for your first post, a lengthy useful post. I will definately consider some decent phones!

    But the second post... :confused: I think you misunderstood what I was asking. When I was asking about 'surround sound', what I meant was does surround sound work with 'headphones'. I do actually have a full 5.1 setup and am aware what surround sound means. I was just asking whether you can get a similar effect from headphones.

    Thanks again for your thoughts on headphones though. I dont think i'll be splashing out £200 on a pair right now. I'll stick around the £100 or less mark. :)
     
  7. rockhopper

    rockhopper
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    any thoughts on the Sennheiser HD555??
     
  8. Stewtheking

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    I use my Grado sr-60's for watching films, though I did buy them mainly for music, and they seem to fit the bill nicely at around the £50 mark (ah, glorious ebay)

    Stew
     

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